The Poll Bludger’s perception that the Liberal Party was stiffed in the Brisbane City Council ward elections has hardened upon closer analysis of the voting figures. Bearing in mind that there is still a quarter of the vote to be counted, Labor currently leads in 17 of the 26 wards despite the cumulative primary vote from the ward elections favouring the Liberals by 46.8 to 43.3 per cent. From these unpromising figures Labor achieved a yield of 65 per cent of the seats. Preferences partly explain the discrepancy, but not much – Crikey reports today that 60 per cent of Greens preferences exhausted, making it unlikely that they would have overhauled the Liberals on the overall two-party preferred figure. Even if they had, it would still have been the kind of result that gave the state electoral system under Joh Bjelke-Petersen such a bad name.
|Contested||# Won||% Won||Vote %||Mayor %|
Who then is to blame for this piece of electoral villainy? The current boundaries were put in place by the Electoral Commission of Queensland in 1999, a year after the Beattie Government came to power. Liberal state director Graham Jaeschke noted at the time that the redistribution left Labor with no marginal wards while the Liberals had five needing swings of less than 5 per cent to change hands, two of which would do so at the 2000 election. By contrast Jaeschke’s Labor counterpart, Mike Kaiser, spoke volumes by describing them as "a fair set of boundaries". However, such was the Liberal Party’s overall performance in 2000 that if they tried blaming the boundaries for the outcome, nobody was listening.
The Poll Bludger has no reason to doubt that the ECQ discharged their responsibilities conscientiously in drawing the council map, which reveals no wards shaped like salamanders and no apparent rhyme or reason to the location of the seven wards which the Liberals won by margins greater than any achieved by Labor. One could perhaps generalise that most of these are on the outer limits of the municipal boundaries, while wards closer to the city and the bay swung heavily back to the Liberals without eliminating the huge margins that Labor secured in 2000. It could be that the Liberals have nobody to blame but themselves for failing to translate shifting public sentiment into support where it mattered – in short, that they suffered from a flawed marginal seats strategy.
Even so, Crikey’s take on the discrepancy – that Newman’s success marks a stinging rebuff for "the ruling Queensland Liberal Party cabal" at party HQ, who ran the wards campaign independently of Newman’s operation – needs to be treated with care. It is indeed true that the Liberals did marginally less well in the wards than the mayoralty as far as the primary vote goes, while the opposite is true of Labor. It is also true that all voters had the option of independents and the Greens for the mayoralty while many ward contests were two-horse Labor versus Liberal contests. But with Labor clinging on to six wards by margins of 5 per cent or less, a good deal of the imbalance can only be put down to bad luck.
As for the implications of the stand-off between a Liberal Lord Mayor and a Labor-dominated council, an article in today’s Sunday Mail suggests that the 1975 parallel invoked partly in jest in the post below may not be too far off the mark. It notes that the Lord Mayor "also acts as the council’s chief executive" and is "able to run council affairs between council meetings and prepare the annual budget". Best of all, "if the hostile council blocked the budget, Premier Peter Beattie could be forced to appoint an administrator". One wonders how impartially Beattie can be expected to behave in the event that he is required to assume the role of John Kerr.